Cooking to entertain is a separate culinary art from cooking for oneself. When I am alone, I'm the impromptu chef. I rummage through the fridge and the cupboard, picking out a few ingredients while I mill over what to do with them. Often, I don't even make up my mind until I flick the stovetop burner on. There's no pressure. When I cook for others, I like to direct my course. I want to be able to hang with my friends when they're over. I don't want to hide in the kitchen the entire time. The easiest thing to do is to bring everyone in and give them something to do, get them involved. I know I feel like a knuckle-kneed idiot when I'm over at someone's house watching them doing all the cooking. I feel like I should be helping out. Ah, there it is again, the sound of pressure.
When I first started cooking in college, I felt anxiety about people watching me make mistakes. Now I don't know that mistakes are all that bad. We all make them. Dropping an egg? Who cares? Burning toast? It's not the end of the world. I'd rather my kitchen full of mistakes and laughter than perfection and silence. In my kitchen, wine gets spilt on the tablecloth. People knock over containers of salt. Onions aren't minced uniformly. None of this is worth apologizing for. When you cook to entertain, it should be fun.
That's why I'm writing this week about Clotilde DuSoulier's lamb meatballs with prunes. I love this recipe for a few reasons. Ground lamb is one way to enjoy the luxury of a pricey, gamier meat at a fraction of the cost (because if you blow all your dough on one dinner party, you won't be able to have anymore for a long time). It's also a perfect dish for getting friends involved. You can make the mixture ahead (it's wonderful if left up to 8 hours ahead of cooking time to marinate), or you can enlist all of your friends to help with the chopping and rolling. Sometimes I think the more people involved, the better a dish can taste. What you'll notice is how astounding the flavors are. The orange zest teases the palette while the earthy sweetness of the plums plays against rich lamb, garlic, parsley and allspice. It's a playful take on Morrocan koftas, and every bite reveals another flavor that you may not have noticed at first. To serve, I prefer to keep it simple--with a bit of Israeli couscous, Greek Yogurt, and chopped homemade preserved lemon.
Boulettes D'Agneau Aux PruneauxThis is a wonderful recipe from my beloved and dog-eared copy of Chocolate and Zucchini.Ingredients:1 pound ground lamb meat, preferably from the shoulder12 good-quality prunes, sometimes called dried plums, pitted and finely chopped2 small shallots, finely chopped1 garlic clove, finely chopped1/4 cup (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped, plus a few for garnish1 tablespoon (packed) freshly grated and finely minced orange zest, from about 2 organic oranges1/4 teaspoon allspice1 large egg, lightly beaten1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oilDirections:1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the meat, prunes, shallots, garlic, parsley, orange zest, allspice, egg, the 1 tablespoon olive oil, the salt, and pepper. Mix well with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours. (If you don't have that kind of time, refrigerate for just 10 minutes.)2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Wash your hands well, and keep them damp. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of the mixture and roll them into balls between your palms. Set aside in a single layer on two plates until you've used up all the meat. Wash your hands thoroughly again.3. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add half of the meatballs in a single layer without crowding. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring the meatballs gently around the pan to brown them all over. Set aside on a clean plate and cover with foil while you cook the second batch. Return the first batch to the pan, cover, and reheat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with couscous and Greek-style yogurt and preserved lemon.YIELDS: 4 servings as main course, 6 as starter. keeps for several days in an airtight container in the fridge.